Paul Auster feels guilty about this middle class background. He wants to be a writer and nothing else. He does a bit of travelling. Takes on a number of odd jobs. Desperately tries to avoid the nine to five world.

He works on an oil tanker, does freelance translations in Paris. He even translates the North-Vietnamese Constitution from French to English, is sent to Mexico to ghostwrite a novel that never sees the light of day. Eventually he becomes so strapped for cash he designs a card game version of baseball  that nobody wants. Plenty of failure to go around, for sure.

Should you read this as an aspiring writer or as somebody who wants to pay the price to live follow her dream?


He’s never actually starving. If you want to know how to survive on extremely cheap food, just email me. He bumps into lots of interesting characters along the way, but his description doesn’t capture these souls. You do feel that these people touched him in some way, but he can’t really share that experience with the reader. He meets John Lennon, but we only hear one sentence that Lennon utters. It’s a fine sentence, but still. He works on a novel by Jerzy Kosinsky, here we do get some interesting info, but little has to do with failure, or living hand to mouth or the craft of writing.

If you’re expecting to find out how a wannabe writer finally makes it, you won’t find it here. If you want advice on how to be a better writer, turn elsewhere (The breakout novel by Donald Maass is a good start). If you want to learn how to survive on a very tight budget, I’m sure there are better books out there.

What’s good about it?

In an age in which we scream our so-called joys, accomplishments, and what we had for dinner to the world, 24/7, it’s refreshing to read a book from someone who lists his failures.

Though I get the feeling he didn’t tell all, and that there were far more painful failures that he could have discussed in detail, to the benefit of the reader. The book is also remarkably devoid of any sexual encounters. He does have them, because he ends up with a bad case of ‘the clap’, but still.

Any takeaway lessons? He was wriring constantly. He stuck to his dream of wanting to become a writer. He did make some compromises along the way, but all in all he kept his eyes on the prize.

Is this the formula for success? Just keep your nose to the grind-stone? I’m not so sure, since we will never know how many people got buried this year alone in a coffin with 50 of their unpublished manuscripts. Though I suppose, keeping your nose to the grindstone is a better formula for success than rarely letting your nose anywhere near the grindstone.

The book could have been more, the writer didn’t dig deep enough, but wasn’t all together bad. Some scenes were quite endearing (the one with the dean when Auster wants to quit college for example). Some others were quite revealing (the scenes when he tries to sell his baseball game).

Stephen King’s book ‘on writing, a memoir of the craft’, though also not that hot, is a bit better than this one.

Read it or weed it?

-thinking, thinking-

Ok, weed it.